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September 23rd, 2019:

Interview with Monica Flores Richart

Monica Flores Richart

I’d say there are three things I want to see happen this November. I want to see Mayor Turner get re-elected, I want to see the Metro referendum pass, and I want to see Monica Flores Richart kick Dave Wilson’s sorry ass off of the HCC Board of Trustees. You know about Wilson and his shenanigans, so enough said there. Richart is an attorney who has also worked as a political consultant, including Nick Lampson’s Congressional campaign in 2006. She has been an education advocate with a focus on HISD’s magnet school program, and more recently served in the Harris County Clerk’s office, where she worked on the county voting centers project. You want to make Houston a better place with better government, support Monica Flores Richart in HCC District 1. Here’s the interview:

As always, refer to the Erik Manning spreadsheet for all your candidate info needs. My 2017 with Richart when she ran for HISD Trustee is here, and my 2013 interview with Zeph Capo, the outgoing HCC Trustee in this district, is here.

Other counties also considering property tax rate hikes

I have four things to say about this.

A statewide property tax relief plan that takes effect next year is prompting hefty tax increases this fall in many of the biggest cities and counties in Texas, even in places that have historically kept rates flat or decreased them.

Elected officials in some cities and counties say they have no choice but to raise taxes as high as they can this year to brace for the implementation of property tax reforms that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature called historic earlier this summer. The average effective tax rate for single-family homes in Texas was 2.18 percent in 2018, third-highest in the nation, according to a study by ATTOM Data Solutions.

Starting next year, cities and counties will be barred from increasing property tax collections more than 3.5 percent in any year without a vote of the public. Currently, the state has an 8-percent limit, called the rollback rate, that state lawmakers say has allowed cities and counties to overtax homeowners. The lack of a state income tax makes Texas municipalities especially reliant on property tax revenue.

A look around the state shows many counties and cities are pushing rates to the 8-percent rollback rate this year to bank money or, in a few cases, even to fund pay raises for themselves, in reaction to the new law. El Paso, Harris, Tarrant, Webb and Travis counties are among those pushing to the current rollback rate, or near it. And cities including El Paso, Arlington, Corpus Christi and Austin are similarly considering rates at or near the 8-percent limit.

“I think a lot of cities and counties know that we are putting them on a diet and they are going on one last bender before it happens,” said State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who was a key player in crafting the property tax reforms as the leader of the House Ways and Means Committee.

[…]

In Harris County, which hasn’t raised the tax rate in decades, county officials say the state’s new restrictions are forcing them to react by raising the tax rate by 2.26 cents per $100 of assessed value. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county needs to create a contingency fund to ensure it can pay for services, such as health care, transportation and flood control, once the state’s 3.5-percent cap goes into effect. The rate increase, if approved next month, would allow Harris County to collect more than $200 million extra in tax money than last year.

1. There are some extremely bitchy quotes in the story from Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who pushed the bill that led to this in the Senate. I may have rolled my eyes so hard that they will never unroll.

2. The counties and cities that are considering this are acting in what they believe is their best interest, and the best interest of their residents. Plenty of expenses that counties and cities face, from disaster relief to health care to salaries and pensions, aren’t subject to any kind of rate limit. HB3 radically changed their long term financial picture. They had no choice but to adjust.

3. Just as a reminder, there are plenty of things the Legislature could have done to improve our property tax system without putting the squeeze on local governments. The Lege could also greatly help counties on the expenditure side of the balance sheet by expanding Medicaid, which would do a lot to reduce the cost of health care on counties. The whining from the likes of Bettencourt on this is just beyond rich. All that is without even pointing out that having a property tax-based system, in which the main expense is completely disconnected from people’s annual incomes, instead of an income tax-based system, is always going to have problems like this.

4. The same voters who will be given the power to approve or reject future tax collection levels also have the power to approve or reject the local officials who may be raising tax rates now ahead of that. They also have that power over people like Paul Bettencourt and Dustin Burrows and Greg Abbott and so forth. Maybe some day that power will be exercised.

The MOB’s message to Baylor

I’ve been a member of the Rice MOB since 1988, when I arrived in Houston as a grad student in math. I’m especially proud to have been part of the MOB this weekend.

Rice University’s Marching Owl Band delivered a controversial skit and played pro-LGBTQ song “YMCA” by the Village People as dozens of students and alumni rushed the field with rainbow flags at its football game against Baylor University on Saturday night.

The skit comes as LGBTQ students and alumni fight to be recognized by the private Baptist college in Waco.

Chad Fisher, a spokesman for the Marching Owl Band, also known as “The MOB,” said he and his bandmates decided on a “Star Wars”-themed show months ago, but after learning about Baylor LGBTQ students’ ongoing fight to get recognition for their student group, they decided to incorporate that into their performance.

“Some of us did some more digging and found how deep it went,” Fisher said.

A Baylor spokeswoman confirmed that on Sept. 6, the college’s administration declined to officially recognize and charter Gamma Alpha Upsilon, an LGBTQ-student group on campus that has been fighting to be recognized since its inception in 2011.

The private Baptist university’s refusal to recognize Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or “GAY” in Greek letters, as an official student group has prevented them from receiving certain privileges, including the opportunity to advertise events on campus, reserve university spaces for meetings and receive funding through the student government.

Though Baylor President Linda Livingstone did not issue an official statement about the recent charter denial, the spokeswoman pointed to an Aug. 27 statement from Livingstone. In it, Livingstone said that “Baylor is committed to providing a loving and caring community for all students — including our LGBTQ students.”

But she also referred to the college’s “Human Sexuality” policy, which states that “the university affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God” and that “Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm.”

Baylor’s sexual conduct policy, also referenced in Livingstone’s statement, explains that it is “expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching,” including “heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior.”

See here for more on this. You can also see the full script for the show here, and the scoreboard display that accompanied the show here. It’s not just that I believe Baylor is wrong, it’s that I think Baylor, and other “Christian” leaders, politicians, and organizations completely miss the main idea of Jesus Christ’s teachings. It’s very clear, if you actually read what Jesus said over and over again, that Jesus taught we are all God’s children and we are all loved by God. Jesus made a point of associating with lepers and prostitutes, paupers and tax collectors, to emphasize that we are not judged by who we are, we are judged by what we do. In particular, we are judged by our actions towards “the least of these”. (Ever read the parable of the sheep and the goats? Of Lazarus and the rich man? It’s all right there.) It amazes me how often the most prominent “Christians” of our time act like the villains in one of Christ’s parables. But here we are.

The insistence by groups like Gamma Alpha Upsilon and individual LGBTQ people that they too are included in God’s grace also amazes me. I, personally, would take the hate and vitriol that comes from the “Christians” and say fine, I don’t want to be part of your stupid, immoral group, I’ve got plenty of love and acceptance over here. But these folks, so much more than Linda Livinstone and Ken Starr and the rest of that crowd, have taken Jesus’ actual words and teachings to heart. They believe it, they know they’re a part of it, and they won’t give up until everyone else knows that, too. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I find that so moving and inspiring, and I want them to have what they have always deserved. If making dumb Star Wars jokes in a silly halftime show at the expense of the Baylor administration helps them in some infinitesimal way, I’m happy.